Sunday, May 31, 2015

News Amsterdam Singers - Poems, Letters and Premieres - 05/28/15

Music Director & Conductor: Clara Longstreth
Francis Poulenc: Petites voix
Eric Whitacre: She weeps over Rahoon
Andrew Adelson: English Horn
Pen Ying Fang: Piano
Leonard Bernstein: French choruses from The Lark
Jason Hill: Baritone
Robert Thorpe: Tenor
Matthew Harris: Drinking Song (samba)
Michael Dellaira: Nobody
Robin Beckhard: Soprano
Andrew Adelson: Oboe
Paul Hindemith: Six chansons
Ben Moore: Dear Theo
Rick Bonsall: Bass
Rebecca Dee: Alto
Allison Gish: Soprano
Nathaniel Granor: Tenor
Cecil Effinger: Four Pastorales
Andrew Adelson: Oboe

All good things have to come to an end, but at least the ultimate concert of my 2015-2015 music season ‒ and regretfully my first one by the reliably stellar New Amsterdam Singers ‒ offered the double advantage of being appealing and convenient. Indeed, it would luckily be taking place a few blocks from my apartment in the Upper West Side's beautiful Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church. And the program, which encompassed a wide variety of "Poems. Letters and Premieres" in English and French, sounded like the perfect pick-me-up on a hot Thursday night (Almost Friday!). Apparently a lot of people thought the same because the spacious venue eventually filled up to capacity with a large and dedicated crowd.

The concert started in a light-hearted mood with "Petites voix", five French songs by Francis Poulenc, which were sung with much verve by the women singers of the choir. It was a totally charming opening number.
Superstar composer Eric Whitacre's "She weeps over Rahoon" was also a ladies-only piece, for which they were accompanied by an English horn and a piano. Inspired by James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach, it beautifully expressed gloomy weather with a light touch of exoticism in an appropriately haunting performance.
Next, another widely popular composer, the French language and a hint of Latin were combined for the choir's male singers and a drum with Leonard Bernstein's "French choruses", some incidental music for Lillian Hellman's The Lark, which was itself adapted from Jean Anouilh's play about Joan of Arc. The three songs were delightfully melodic and unabashedly lively, infectious clapping included.
High spirits were still flying for Matthew Harris' merry take on W. B. Yeats' verse, "Drinking Song".
Composer Michael Dellaira himself introduced his "Nobody" work for its New York City premiere. After James Joyce, Jean Anouilh and William Butler Yeats, it was Emily Dickinson's turn in the spotlight with four poems of hers containing the word "nobody" put to music for the full chorus, a soprano and an oboe. The result was a convincing mix of serious existentialism and attractive harmonies.
After intermission, Paul Hindemith's "Six chansons", whose texts were six French poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, brought up themes of nature, such as animals and the seasons, and very much benefited from an organically nuanced performance by the chamber chorus.
The chamber chorus and four soloists also distinguished themselves in the New York City premiere of "Dear Theo" by Ben Moore, who introduced this new piece of his. Using some excerpts of letters that Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, he came up with a deeply emotional and singularly affecting musical portrait of the artist, which the singers vividly brought to colorful life.
The last work on the program was "Four Pastorales" for chorus and oboe by Colorado educator, performer, inventor and composer Cecil Effinger from the poetry by Colorado's Poet Laureate Thomas Hornsby Ferrill. Unsurprisingly the lovely pastorales revolved around the joys of nature and went off as lightly as the summer breathe that was definitely needed in the stifling church. A slight inconvenience that by no means lessened the lasting impact of this thoroughly enjoyable musical evening.

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